Quick Play to Competitive: Does ‘Overwatch’ Need a New Middle Mode?

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Why is no one else on the payload?  Why doesn’t our team have a tank?  Why won’t anyone select support type?  Overwatch players have heard and made these complaints a million times, almost as many times as they hear Genji crying for healing every match (I play a lot of healers and a lot of Genji, so I can make this joke).   The issues are exponentially worse and the complaints far more frequent in Quick Play mode, despite the stakes being substantially lower than Competitive ranked matches.  The fact is, the blatant disregard for balanced team composition including healers, tanks, and all other character types, inability or disinterest in proper communication, and general indifference toward successful, team-oriented play have made Overwatch‘s Quick Play nearly unbearable.  Unfortunately, as frequently as Quick Play is the epitome of antagonizing, it’s still a necessary portion of the game that can’t be disregarded.

Unsurprisingly, Competitive draws the try-hard crowd, those who want to up their game, those who are there to win or go down fighting.  Though there are exceptions, Competitive matches are typically fought between two teams comprised of characters conducive to a balanced team and individuals who respect the metagame or the prescribed team makeup based on the consensus of the overall community, in particular the pro circuit.  While some hold too hard to the meta, often unsuccessfully attempting to become the team dictator responsible for allocating roles and character selections (yes, I can play Mercy, but I’m going to stick with Zenyatta, kick ass, and you can suck on my harmony and discord orbs,) the meta works for a reason and is often the simplest recipe for success.  There is no magic formula that results in an auto win, despite what your wannabe dictator might think about the necessity of three tanks, two healers, and an attacker, but in terms of character types, the meta often represents the most tried and true, balanced team for any scenario.

To be clear, I’m not saying that the public’s opinions concerning certain hero selections are always accurate, and each player should definitely play to their strengths.  If you’re a sensational Widowmaker player, maybe you can help your team on attack (if you bother to get on the payload), despite the moans and groans from your team.  What I am saying, however, is that a variety of character types are absolutely necessary to ensure your team is successful.  It’s simply part of the game and what developer Blizzard intended, hence, in the character selection screen, the game points out what each team is lacking, typically a healer and or tank.  Consequently, even if you’re the world’s best Widowmaker (you’re not, by the way) but the team already has a Hanzo, that more than likely is “too many snipers.”

The instantaneous response to all of this might be, “relax, it’s a game, it should be fun.”  I wholeheartedly agree, that’s why I’m writing the article.  Overwatch is a game, and it should be fun, but unlike the run-of-the-mill shooter, Overwatch is a hybrid.  It’s an objective based, team oriented, arena shooter to be specific, and as that name suggests, team work is central to the game.  Unlike most shooters, showing up and shooting things isn’t enough to help the team achieve their goal.  Players have to cooperate, participate in the objective, and fulfill a specific role within a team if they hope to accomplish anything.  Consequently, when a player loads into the map and selfishly selects a hero they want to play but not a hero that the team needs, they might have fun, but often at the expense of the five other players on their team.  You might be having the game of your life as McCree, but if you aren’t actively trying to move the payload with your team, it may negatively impact their experience.  While Overwatch can be fun even while losing, with a poorly structured team, regardless of how good you are, it’s often difficult to perform any role and enjoy gameplay at all.  Try being a team’s only tank sometime, it’s like wearing a neon “Shoot Me” sign, a sentiment the enemy team will be more than happy to oblige.  Despite all of this, more often than not, Quick Play lobbies are full of teams composed of squishy attackers, no tanks, no healers, and relatively no synergy to speak of.  In short, the majority of the time Quick Play isn’t worth playing.

“If Competitive works better for you, why don’t you just stick to Competitive?” you may be asking.  I would if it were that simple.  Unfortunately, everything in Competitive positively or negatively impacts player rank and a players’ end of season reward as an extension of that.  Consequently, there’s no room for messing around, at least not without impacting other players who are there making an honest effort.  It isn’t the ideal environment to test new strategies, brush up on a certain character, or familiarize yourself with a hero you don’t know how to play.  That’s what Quick Play is for.  I’m not exactly innocent here.  Recently I picked Genji on defense on Hanamura in a Competitive match at the expense of my friend’s sanity as he played healer.  While I proved the cyborg-ninja’s defensive merit that match, netting the most objective kills and time, and my friend didn’t question the pick the next time I made it, I still made a selfish decision that in some way impacted the team.  The tanks had to endure more, the healer had to watch over (over watch?) a squishy ninja.  Even though my selection worked, I might have thrown the team off-balance and maybe should have practiced the pick more in Quick Play.  Lately, however, it’s impossible to properly get a feel for a character or strategy in Quick Play when your team is getting smashed so hard you can hardly leave the spawn room.  There’s always Arcade modes, but no mode in Arcade is conducive to players learning the current format.  Or what if a player can’t commit the time it takes to complete a competitive match, wants a reprieve from healer or tank roles, or simply wants a break from the more stress-inducing Competitive mode?  Again, there’s Arcade, but at the expense of having to play totally random heroes in Mystery Heroes, and at the risk of fighting an impossible to beat team of six D.Vas in No Limits.

Quick Play probably wouldn’t be in its current state with proper communication.  However, it’s impossible to expect every player to respond to messages, however kind they’re worded, to be able to hear voice chat, or ultimately, to bother giving a damn.  What’s worse is that Blizzard hasn’t seen fit to equip players with more helpful prompts in their communication wheel, prompts that are impossible to miss as they come in the form of audio and visual queues.  Where is the “We need a tank” option on the wheel?  Probably not included because Blizzard assumed that was common sense.  Apparently not, Blizzard.  Where’s the “These heroes aren’t working, let’s try something new,” prompt?  Just as absent as the healer your team needs so desperately. Or perhaps Blizzard could introduce a new feature to the character selection screen that displays the team’s collective health total compared to a recommended amount to demonstrate to players how squishy and ill-advised their current character selections are.  Maybe they could make it look like a password strength bar, like those you see when setting up a new password for anything.  Anything below a collective team health score of 1,200 (all heroes with 200 hp or less) is “weak” and designated in red, 1,400 is “moderate” and colored yellow, 1,600 is “good” and in green, and anything beyond 2,000 is “excessive, too many tanks,” and is colored…blue, I guess.  I don’t know, my passwords are never that strong.  More than likely Blizzard would just be giving ignorant players more to ignore at the start of the match, but who knows.

Perhaps the best option, albeit the most extreme, would be for Blizzard to implement a new mode.  Imagine if selecting the Competitive Play icon brought up another menu, not unlike Arcade now, and within that menu were the options to play two different modes.  The first would be the ranked Competitive matches we currently know in which players continue to climb towards the next level, golden guns, and the glory of Grandmaster.  The other, new mode I’m suggesting would be much the same, with matchmaking operating the same and players of similar ratings and skill placed on a team together and pitted against a team with a similar team rating, with the caveat that the outcome doesn’t affect a player’s rank.  That way, players of a certain skill level could play with other players who play at the same level and share a similar mindset, but not have to worry about their skill rating while playing, not unlike how Competitive works in the off-season.  It would allow players a better opportunity to practice, test new strategies and characters, and presumably, offer an environment in which a player could open up team chat and ask for a break from healer and actually get a response.  Best yet, players who don’t regularly click on Competitive Play, who should probably be playing in No Limits with all of the other troll players and not over-saturating Quick Play with snipers and Attack heroes, would have no reason to leave the cesspool that Quick Play currently is.

There’s an immense disparity between Overwatch‘s two standard modes.  In Quick Play, a “what team?” carefree, self-centered mindset runs rampant, while in the other camp an intense, no-shenanigans, adhere-to-the-meta-or-die mindset repulses or intimidates more casual players away.  Traveling between the two camps is becoming more difficult with time.  Perhaps I’m just a salty try-hard.  But I’m not alone.  Just in the time of drafting this article Kotaku’s Cecilia D’Anastasio released related article, albeit with a very different, maybe more mature or realistic conclusion.  Two writers recognizing a bump in an otherwise smooth game might mean something needs ironing.  But the responsibility doesn’t entirely fall on Blizzard’s shoulders.  We as an audience also have to make a change.  Take the time to give a crap about your team.  Have fun, but not at the expense of others.  Be the hero your team doesn’t deserve but the one it needs right now.  Most importantly, get on the payload!

Tim was both born and raised. He resides quietly in the Emerald City, where he can often be found writing, reading, watching movies, or playing video games. Like the stereotypical Seattleite, he makes money crafting coffee beverages, though he would like to make a career writing or in working for the Galactic Empire.